A special taxing district would have unfairly affected a poor segment of the population near Venice, the president of the Leadership Council of Madison County said at Wednesday's County Board meeting.
Ed Hightower lambasted Metro East Sanitary District leaders for trying to impose a tax hike on more than 9,600 property owners "who can least afford it" in a process he says lacked transparency and fairness.
For about 140 property owners in Madison County, the increase would have amounted to an increase of roughly $300 annually for a $100,000 home, Madison County Clerk Debbie Ming-Mendoza said previously. In St. Clair County, roughly 9,500 property owners would have seen an annual increase of $400 on a $100,000 home.
The increase would have placed "further undue hardship on citizens of Madison, Venice and Brooklyn who are already struggling," Hightower said in a statement to board members.
"Do you think this would have happened in any other community?" Hightower asked.
Steven Adler, the Sanitary District's director, did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday evening.
A St. Clair County judge ruled the special taxing district, which would have included parts of Venice, Madison and Brooklyn in Madison County, would have been illegal. The Metro East Sanitary District does not have the legal authority to establish such a district, according to Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler.
Revenue from the special taxing district would have been used to make necessary repairs in the sewer system, Prenzler said. He said he agreed the process could have been more transparent.
"It could have been communicated better, yes," Prenzler said.
The populations of Venice and Brooklyn are largely African American, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, while Madison's population is roughly 43 percent black. Hightower said the issue is not about race, but rather about how the increased taxes would have affected all property owners.
"This is about transparency, fairness and justice," Hightower said.
Hightower asked County Board members to vote down Prenzler's nominee to the board, Charlotte Dixon. They voted against her nomination 20-8.
Hightower urged Prenzler to choose a nominee from Madison, Venice or Brooklyn and consult with mayors from those communities before nominating someone else. The chairman said he would consider applications from that area, but could not guarantee a person from those communities would be chosen.
A vote on Dixon's appointment to the district was postponed at April's meeting because of concerns about a conflict of interest. Her husband, Mike Dixon, serves on the Granite City Regional Wastewater Treatment District.
The Leadership Council of Madison County includes five NAACP chapters, the Madison County Urban League and the Coalition of Concerned Citizens.
In other business
Board members unanimously approved money for a $14 million jail renovation project opposed by Chairman Kurt Prenzler.
The money will pay for electric and plumbing updates among other improvements, including renovation of several cell blocks. Prenzler advocated for a less-costly $8 million project in a news release Tuesday that would not include cell block renovations.
The project would be paid for with existing money transferred into the Capital Projects Fund from the General Fund, Treasurer Chris Slusser told the News-Democrat previously.
"I believe work needs to be done at the jail, but I am not convinced we should be renovating jail cells,” Prenzler said in the news release. "I don’t think taxpayers want to see millions of dollars of the county savings used this way."
County Administrator Doug Hulme said the more expensive project means the county would be "committing a majority of the county’s cash to one project," possibly leading to "tough decisions in the future.”
But County Board members overwhelmingly disagreed with Prenzler and Hulme, not only approving the money, but also criticizing the chairman for sending out a news release prior to the meeting.
Tom McRae, a Republican from Bethalto, called Prenzler's move "policy by press release."
In another vote, board members again postponed nominating members to the Mental Health Board as legal questions continue. The proposal on Wednesday night's agenda would have allowed current Mental Health Board members to continue their service in an effort to get a jumbled appointment schedule back on track.
It was not clear when the Board would take the appointments up again.
Appointments to the Mental Health Board should be staggered, but the appointment schedule became skewed at some point, though it was never determined exactly when it happened. The error came to light during a controversy earlier this year surrounding new appointments to the board.
Board members approved Dalton Gray as County Board member for District 11 to take the place of Republican Brad Maxwell, who was recently approved to lead the U.S. Marshal service in Southern Illinois.
Gray won the March 20 primary election to become the Republican nominee for District 11, where Maxwell was not seeking re-election to another term.
Board Members also approved the following appointments:
- Marine Fire Protection District: Mark Bohnenstiehl appointed to a new three year term.
- Miracle Manor-Bellemore Place Street Light District: Phyllis McQuay appointed to a new three year term, replacing Tammy Davis.
The board did not approve the appointment of Bob Meyer to the Madison County Flood Prevention District after McRae, the Bethalto board member, raised questions about Prenzler's motivations in removing Jeremy Plank from that position.
The nomination of Kevin Babb to that board was postponed, as was the nomination of Ron Carnell to the Wood River Drainage and Levee District.